Arts Brookfield held its annual Lowdown Hudson Music Fest on July 12 and 13 this year. The event, which began in 2011 as the Lowdown Hudson Blues Festival, is a free to the public event that draws crowds upwards of 15,000 people annually and showcases some of the best musical talent out there.
The event is held on the lovely Brookfield Place waterfront, which only adds to the charm and atmosphere of the evening. I was able to secure a press pass for day 2, and get right up front for one of my very favorite bands, the Drive-By Truckers.
The evening began with overcast skies and threats of thunder and lightning. The crowds started off pretty lightly, no doubt due to the threat of bad weather, but it did not stop the nights opening artist Rayland Baxter and his band from giving the crowd it’s all. Rayland is the son of musician Bucky Baxter, a multi-instrumentalist who has played with the likes of Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams, R.E.M and Steve Earle. Despite being the son of such a well-respected musician, Rayland’s music does not set out to emulate his famous Father, but to sound uniquely his own. Rayland’s sound can be described as soulful country mixed with a modern twist. His great melodies, beautifully crafted lyrics and soulful voice really showcased a talent that is uniquely his own.
The next act was the talented and very charming Valerie June. June, a native of Tennessee and a more recent transplant to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, calls her style of music “Organic Moonshine Roots Music”. To my ear, it was a perfect mixture of blues, gospel, soul, folk and even bluegrass. During June’s set, the weather began to get a little bit better and the crowd began to grow. Her vocals and musical talent really began to get stronger with every passing song. June, who attributes her soulful lyrics and sound to her upbringing in the deep south, particularly her church, where she got to listen to hundreds of different voices singing regularly, has a sound that draws you in and comforts you. She had the amazing ability to make even this Northern girl feel like I was sitting out in the country on the back porch listening to something deep and soulful and true.
The headliners of the night were the Drive-By Truckers. Anyone who reads my blog understands how much this band means to me. And from the large crowd that trickled its way in to see them, it was evident that even up in NYC, DBT has garnered themselves quite a loyal following. Easily mistaken at first listen as a typical southern rock band, DBT crowds are almost always heavy on the testosterone. Women don’t flock to them as readily as men do, for whatever reason, dismissing them as more of a “man’s band”. This could not be further from the truth.
Drive-By Truckers are a band that’s lyrics are beautiful, political, and socially conscious. They sing about the duality of the south. The beauty, the shame and the history. They write about what matters to them and when you really listen, you begin to understand the magic in that.
Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley share singing and songwriting duties. Their sounds and tone and content are very different from one another. Hood’s songs seem more reflective upon first listen. He sucks you in melodically and lyically pretty quickly. As a female, it took me longer to understand Mike Cooley. With lyrics filled with references to women and whiskey, I initially dismissed Cooley as less of a lyricist. I could not have been more wrong. The beauty of his lyrics are not lost on me after many a listen. And they are just as deep and socially aware as any Hood has written. The duality of the Southern man, I suppose.
The band had a “Black Lives Matter” poster pinned up by the drum kit and they made certain to include very socially and politically charged tracks from their new album American Band, which will be coming out on September 30 of this year. In this time of such political strife and discord, the songs the band played from this upcoming album showed that they will not be shying away from singing about what they believe in. In fact, it appears they will addressing these issues even more strongly this time around.
The setlist was shorter than I have come to expect at a DBT show and there was no encore, but what they played packed one hell of a punch. They included 6 songs from their upcoming album, (with only the song “Surrender Under Protest” having already been released), of a 16 song set.There were probably fans that were wondering where a lot of their favorite songs were, but anyone that understands the band knows that at a Drive-By Truckers show, you’re never going to get the same thing twice. You will also never walk away disappointed.
All in all the festival seemed to me to be an enormous success. Fans were happy, new sounds were discovered and we all got to walk away with money in our pockets. It truly is one of the best free events that the city has to offer. I know I’ll be attending again next year.